How to Make the Jump from Corporate to Startups

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While leaving the certainty of a corporate job for the high-risk, high-reward world of startups can be scary, it's something many high-performing millennials are considering.

That's why CommonBond convened a panel of experts, moderated by Nikki Singh, CommonBond's director of campus relations, on February 24th to help 100 attendees consider how to move from the cubicle to the standing desk.

The panelists were:

  • Shaun Johnson, Startup Institute's co-founder and its New York program director 
  • Mateo Askaripour, Grovo's director of sales development 
  • Radhika Duggal, CommonBond's director of brand marketing
  • Richard Przekop, Jet.com's associate director of technical operations

They discussed what traits startup are looking for in employees, how to negotiate compensation, dealing with the stresses of startup life, and the differences between startups at every stage of growth.

What startups need from new hires

"Make yourself indispensable," said Mateo, who started out as an intern at Grovo. He remembered Grovo CEO Jeff Fernandez telling him when he joined that it wasn't enough to be good at his job and well-liked, Grovo needed people who could "run through walls for the company." What that means is that they take ownership of the work that they do, Mateo said, and strive to be the best possible, regardless of their responsibilities.

Persistence makes a big difference, says Shaun Johnson. "You have to get out of your comfort zone and face a lot of rejection," says Shaun, who joined the startup accelerator Techstars after months of searching for the right fit when he was a management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton.

You should have a willingness to learn and be hunger to do work, Radhika said. "I can teach someone marketing, I can't teach someone that desire to learn and hunger to execute," she said.

Know what type of startup you want

Startups are always evolving. What type of startup to join comes down to risk tolerance and the type of work you want to do, Radhika said. The early stage startups will require you to be a jack-of-all-trades while the later-stage enterprises will want people who can set into more defined roles.

"Not everyone is going to make it from Series A to Series B and from Series B to Series C," said Mateo. People need to adapt as the company matures with each stage of new investment and new people. "Not everyone is able to adapt."

Understand your compensation

"Know what salary you want and be able to justify it," Shaun said. He recommends using compensation sites, such as Glassdoor, and asking people you are close to in your professional network about what are appropriate salaries for startup roles you are interested in. "Do as many comparisons as possible," Shaun said.

Stock options are trickier. The key things to know about stock options are how many shares you are going to get, how many shares are outstanding, and the value of the company. “If you are feeling dangerous, you can ask about the cap table (which shows all the shareholders in a company),” Richard said.

Embrace the startup life

Many in the audience worried about the the work-life balance at startups. Richard suggested that people discuss their work-life expectations with employers to see if they will fit into the company culture. "It can be a tough question, but it's worth having that conversation," he said.

Think more about if you love the role than the work-life balance aspect of it, Radhika said. Know that in a startup, there will be cycles and some of those cycles will include long hours.  "If you love the work you're doing, you won't dread those times, you'll wake up energized about doing great work and making an impact each day," she said.

The "Making the Jump: From Corporate to Startup" panel is one of many events sponsored by CommonBond. Our events team creates experiences focused on the topics you care about from social entrepreneurship, to personal finance, to career growth. Learn more about our lineup of upcoming events.

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